All posts by Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

About Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle lives in Paris TX and blogs about intersections of faith, culture and politics on her website and her Intersections Facebook page. She is a retired minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and past president for Coffee Party USA. Charlotte also blogs about Scripture from a progressive Christian approach at her Living in The Story website.

The “Change Back” Temptation

As a pastor, I was trained in Systems Theory. In this approach to family counseling, we seek to discern how the various people in a group function in light of how the entire system works: the part and the whole are deeply intertwined.

Systems Theory also prepares counselors to recognize the fearful, knee-jerk “change back” reaction.

  • A woman who has been abused begins to stand up to her abuser.
  • A man who has been drinking or doing drugs gets sober.
  • A teenager who has carried his parents’ emotional toxicity sheds his shame and learns how to become whole and independent.
  • An employee who has been taking responsibility for the problems in the office steps back and lets the boss deal with her own consequences.

Whenever people start changing their own unhealthy patterns, everyone in the system is forced to adjust. What was comfortable and predictable becomes disorienting and distressing. Thus the demand of other people in the system is (all too often): “Change Back!”

I keep processing what has been happening in our American society lately, trying to understand our current cultural turmoil. Here are some insights.

In the past, white male patriarchs have been in charge of all our institutions, governments, businesses and churches, but in recent years, more and more of us have been growing into leadership and stepping up to a much fuller participation in our society than ever before.

Me as a woman in the male dominated vocation of clergy, people of various ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds—we are more than ready to move from the sidelines to the frontlines.

We are not children needing a patriarch’s protection; rather we are mature adults capable of the full range of participation and leadership in all our institutions.

It is time, we say; it is high time.

The real America is increasingly White AND Black AND Brown; increasingly male and female, straight and gay, Christian and non-Christian, conservative and liberal. America has moved away from a neat, homogenous contrived reality and embraced our more authentic social complexity.

The face of American power and influence is shifting.

I consider the recent changes within America’s social fabric to be good and healthy and I see much positive change. The American reality has shifted and we can never go back; these societal evolutions are irrevocable.

However, some Americans don’t seem to be ready for this new reality. “Change Back!” they cry. “What was comfortable and predictable has become disorienting and distressing!”

Those of us who were schooled in Systems Theory were taught to provide a calm, non-anxious presence in the midst of what-feels-like chaos. We have been trained to keep our focus on the big picture and thus help those within a system adjust and adapt to the inevitable changes that growth always brings.

Sometimes growth is gentle, even subtle so that we scarcely notice the change. But sometimes growth comes in spurts and—as in the turmoil of our human adolescence—we find ourselves flailing and lashing out in confusion.

So I’m challenging myself to be a calm, non-anxious presence in the days ahead. I want to try to keep the big picture and trust that our nation’s social change is a natural thing that will soon enough be widely perceived as good and healthy: as part of our evolution into greater understanding and deeper maturity.

In these anxious days, I am challenging myself to patiently and persistently help reluctant Americans accept, adapt and adjust to the inevitable social changes that are developing within our society.

Our society won’t “change back.” We can’t. I believe the movement forward is inexorable.

And so I’m looking for non-anxious partners to help hold the big picture with me, patient partners who will trust in and work for a future that will be big enough for all of us.

Here is an article by Harriet Lerner: Coping With Countermoves” (When you challenge the old rules, anxiety rises like steam.)

Here is an article that explains a bit more about Systems Theory in counseling approaches

It’s Our Turn

My mom was a champion toilet paper hoarder. It became a family joke but we all were happy to indulge her. We knew she had lived through the depression and spent some of her earliest years separated from her siblings because the family couldn’t afford to live together; the eight children were divided up and distributed to several relatives’ houses for a while.

Then, as a teenager on the cusp of adulthood, she lived through the shortages and anxieties of World War II. We were happy to buy her some extra packages of toilet paper whenever she asked.

I’ve thought a lot about the lives our parents and grandparents lived, what those experiences were like for them and how such monumental events must have shaped and molded them in deep ways. I’ve been remembering her stories lately, thinking about how much her generation endured during those long, dark years.

Continue reading It’s Our Turn

Submitting to Equality: One Women’s Journey

A few weeks before my daughter left for Pepperdine University, we sprawled on my bed, giggling our way through some of my old diaries. I scarcely recognized the twelve-year-old girl who wrote those words; she now seems like a total stranger.

Silly, superficial, and nauseatingly boy-crazy, this Southern-bred, naively arrogant Church of Christ preacher’s daughter embarrasses me, astounds me, intrigues me. Tucked away amid the oohs and aahs and the ups and downs of young love, I found this little aside:

October 3, 1962    Pretty late.

Just finished There’s been a lot of hubbub about whether or not a certain Negro would get in Ole’ Miss College. Governor went against Federal law twice. Negro got in. 2 people were killed & several wounded. Walter Shirrah went around the earth 6 times. Wow.

Continue reading Submitting to Equality: One Women’s Journey

Crying ‘Peace, Peace’ When there is No Peace

All across America, prophets and protesters are challenging us—all of us—because of the ways we have been sweeping our national problems under our societal rug of faux peace.

From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit.

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.

Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush…

(Jeremiah 6)

“From the least to the greatest,” much as the Hebrew prophet lamented, too many Americans have been guilty of deceit: outright lying and disinformation, foolhardy rumor mongering and misinformation, deceiving ourselves into believing that things are not really as bad as “they” say, digging in our heels with willful ignorance.

It’s time for a national repentance.

Continue reading Crying ‘Peace, Peace’ When there is No Peace

White Women: At our Best and At our Worst

We White women have been making headlines lately. I’ll start with the embarrassing ones.

Amy Cooper: New York Woman Calls Police on Black Man Who Asked Her to Leash Dog

By now, we’ve all heard the story and maybe seen the video of Amy Cooper and her Cocker Spaniel in Central Park on Memorial Day. Bird watcher Christian Cooper (no relation) asked her to put her dog back on the leash as the park rules required. She refused.

As their conversation continued, Ms. Cooper responded with over the top hysteria while Mr. Cooper recorded their interaction.

Ms. Cooper asked him to stop recording and when he refused, she opened up her own telephone: “I’m going [to call the police] to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.”

I typed the word “hysteria” above then deleted it then typed it again. I’m sorry to use the word but unfortunately it’s exactly the right word to use here.

Continue reading White Women: At our Best and At our Worst

All This Audacious Looting

I almost never watch the evening news, but this week I can’t not watch.

I was particularly fascinated to see the coverage from Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, California on Sunday. As several hundred people marched peacefully just a few blocks away, the news team at the Promenade filmed dozens of people looting a high-end, boutique shoe store in broad daylight.

Right before our eyes in real time, people rushed out of the store, their arms piled high with shoe boxes. One man brought his own garbage can, filled it up and dragged it off. It was a “cat and mouse game,” the reporter said; while the police were protecting the protesters, the looters were looting then scattering. By the time the police arrived and arrested several, the store had been mostly emptied of its merchandise.

This audacious looting was happening in plain sight.
Continue reading All This Audacious Looting

When Pentecost Spirit Blows the Roof Off

When Jesus entered his public ministry, he came with one primary message: “the reign of God is here. The kingdom of God is coming. The presence of God is not out there; it’s here, among you.”

The people who heard that message didn’t really know what to make of it – especially since Jesus’ idea of kingdom, power and privilege was different from their own notions.

In fact, Jesus’ notions of power and privilege were completely upside down and inside out from theirs.

Jesus ate with anyone who sought him out.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus sought out people whom others isolated and taught his followers to do the same.

When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind…

Jesus shepherded the lost sheep, went after the lost coins, embraced the lost sons. Jesus washed feet, broke bread and poured out wine.

Jesus took up his cross and carried it straight into the worst violence the world could muster.

And then, fifty days after the death of Jesus, a small group of disciples gathered in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. Most of these had experienced the Resurrected Christ. Many of them had been present at his ascension.

And now – 50 days later – these disciples were floundering and wondering:

  • What’s real?
  • What’s true?
  • What’s next?

And then the doors of their small lives were blown off their hinges by the wind of Pentecost. The safely shuttered windows of their preconceptions were whooshed wide open.

Continue reading When Pentecost Spirit Blows the Roof Off

Defensive Driving Tips for Defensive Living in an Age of Pandemics

When my husband was learning to drive, his dad would sit in the passenger’s seat repeating his mantra (an old family favorite): “Watch out for the other drivers on the road because they’re all trying to kill you.” We continued this tradition with our own kids and (mostly) we all took the lesson to heart.

Defensive driving became a way of life for our family.

So I’m thinking now would be a really good time to do some defensive living. To take some of the time honored practices of defensive driving as a way to live together in an age of deadly, disorienting pandemics.

Continue reading Defensive Driving Tips for Defensive Living in an Age of Pandemics

No One Ever Accused These Folks of Being Logical

As states begin to reopen, some of the nastiest ‘reopen America’ protesters have backed off. I’m willing to bet, though, that few of these protesters have backed down from their opinions.

In these early weeks of reopening, we are seeing evidence of a quieter, more entrenched protest: brazen rejection of the CDC recommendations for keeping a safe distance; refusing to wear a safety mask in order to make a political statement.

Bald-faced, small space congregating has become a badge of honor in some circles.

It’s been fascinating to watch these protesters rally across the nation. It’s been interesting to listen to the convoluted reasoning justifying their civil disobedience. “Fascinating. Interesting,” I say politely. Or maybe better – worrisome and wearisome.

I’ve written about the childish petulance of immature, unpatriotic protesters. I’ve blogged about the moneyed special interest groups that are agitating behind the scenes and I’ve pondered the power brokers who are in control of this chess board, quite willing to sacrifice their pawns for their own economic advantage. (A recent research project estimates that roughly half of the ‘reopen America’ Twitter accounts are actually bots doing much of this rabble rousing.)

Today I’m musing about the mental gymnastics that has characterized this backlash movement. No one ever accused these folks of being logical.

Continue reading No One Ever Accused These Folks of Being Logical

“You’re Not the Boss of Me”

Protest is part of our American DNA. From our earliest beginnings, when colonists dumped tea into Boston Harbor, pushing back against the government has been a time honored, legal and popular activity within this diverse population of ours.

As a teen and young adult shaped by the 60’s, I remember well the protests that swirled around the Vietnam War, civil rights and women’s rights. Those were watershed years that shifted America society (and U.S. politics) in deep and significant ways.

The current protests to reopen America, however, are not part of this tradition. There certainly are legitimate concerns about the economy, but too many of these protesters express too narrow an understanding of the actual complex reality that is going on.

Continue reading “You’re Not the Boss of Me”